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Legislation Would Not Improve Health Care

Legislation Would Not Improve Health Care

The New Zealand Medical Association is strongly opposed to MP Phillida Bunkle's proposal to introduce legislation lowering the threshold for exemplary damages as a reaction to the Court of Appeal decision on the Bottrill case.

"This knee-jerk and ad-hoc reaction is at best inappropriate and at worst potentially destructive to patients, health professionals, and the quality of the health care system," said NZMA Chairman Dr John Adams.

"We have the greatest respect and sympathy for the plight of the affected Gisborne women, and hope they can obtain compensation through their discussions with Health Minister Annette King."

Dr Adams said potential legislative changes such as have been suggested would create a hostile and risky environment for health professionals to work in.

"If we were to move as a society to introduce frequent costly court battles into medical error, it would be a lottery for patients and the only sector likely to benefit would be the legal fraternity.

"The Government's move to re-introduce lump sums is a much more sensible and realistic option for compensating people for the consequences of accidents, including medical misadventure.

"The NZMA recognises the importance of fair processes to deal with those few doctors whose negligence injures patients, and believes that the current complaint and disciplinary processes for doctors are robust. A new bill to bring other health professionals in line with this is being developed and the recent Cull Report has stimulated discussion on how the timeliness of and access to the system can be improved.

"It is becoming increasingly accepted that blaming and punishing individuals does not contribute to safe health care, especially in situations like the Gisborne cervical smear under-reporting, in which system failure was strongly implicated as a root cause of the tragedy."

Dr Adams said New Zealand would never compete equally in money terms on the international market for doctors. "If it also became unattractive to practise here because of the legal risks and huge insurance premiums that must be paid, why would our excellent medical graduates choose to work here?"

ENDS

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